The State of Texas recently expanded access to medical marijuana. The law opens medical marijuana up to patients with a wide variety of medical conditions, including cancer, autism, and seizure disorders. Previous medical marijuana laws in Texas allowed medical marijuana only in cases of epilepsy. The law is effective immediately.
People on both sides of the marijuana debate have strong opinions about the legalization of marijuana. Recreational marijuana is not legal in the State of Texas as of the writing of this article. But state by state, lawmakers are legalizing the recreational use of marijuana.
With the legalization of recreational marijuana comes even more controversy. Does legalizing recreational marijuana increase traffic crashes? There is a great deal of debate on the topic, and even the studies don’t agree. Advocates, law enforcement, and the legal community continue to grapple with the question of whether legalized marijuana leads to an increase in traffic accidents. We talked to Kyle Bachus, a Denver car accident attorney and marijuana DUI expert about this complex topic.
Has Legal Cannabis Lead to an Increase in Car Accidents?
The answer may surprise you. Legalization of marijuana indeed creates an increase in drivers with the active ingredient of marijuana in their system. However, the statistics also reveal something surprising: states with legalized recreational marijuana see a decrease in incidents of operating with high bodily alcohol content. In other words, while the number of drivers with active marijuana in their system increase in states with recreational marijuana, very dangerous drivers with high amounts of alcohol in their systems decreases.
With the number of overall traffic crashes in steady decline nationwide, the statistics might indicate that legalized marijuana has no impact on the number of car accidents. However, traffic accidents are on the decline throughout the United States, even in places without recreational marijuana. In other words, there may be other factors at play.
Statistics on Recreational Marijuana and Car Accidents
Several groups have attempted to study the link between recreational marijuana use and car accidents. Statisticians often look to the State of Colorado, which legalized recreational marijuana in January of 2014. There was a 2.9 percent decrease in DUI arrests in Colorado in 2017 compared to the year before. For the first five months of 2019, traffic fatalities were down 17 percent in Colorado compared to 2018.
According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, alcohol-related traffic fatalities dropped in states that have legalized marijuana. However, they also found that the presence of dispensaries mitigates the reduction in alcohol-related traffic deaths attributable to legalized marijuana. By contrast, the American Journal of Public Health studied the legalization of marijuana from 1985-2014. They found that dispensaries decrease overall traffic fatalities. The two studies reach opposite conclusions on the effect of dispensary access on traffic crashes.
The Rocky Mountain High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Strategic Intelligence Unit studied the issue of recreational marijuana and traffic deaths. They found that marijuana-related traffic deaths were up 66 percent since the legalization of marijuana. However, in their research, they automatically attributed an accident to marijuana if any marijuana was present in the driver’s system at the time of the crash. They didn’t account for cases where alcohol was also present.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that there are three percent more traffic accidents in states where marijuana is legal. The National Roadside Survey of Drug and Alcohol Use by Drivers for 2013-2014 found that drivers with drugs in their bodies also have alcohol in their bodies 59 percent of the time. In other words, it can be hard to know what’s attributable to marijuana, and when other factors, like alcohol, are a primary cause of a crash.
Other Factors that May Explain Modern Traffic Trends
Modern traffic statistics certainly tell a story — traffic accidents are down in the last few years. However, it’s not clear what story the statistics are telling. There may be other explanations for the fact that traffic accidents have decreased.
According to Reason.org, traffic deaths decreased in states that legalized recreational marijuana. But, they also reported that traffic deaths decreased more among younger age groups (20-39 years old) than drivers in their 40s. Because drivers in their 40s are the most likely to use recreational marijuana, the trend of decreased fatalities may be attributable to factors other than marijuana.
For example, driver technologies are being incorporated into vehicles more than ever before. These technologies operate with the very purpose of reducing traffic accidents. Perhaps the decrease in traffic accidents is more about these technologies working than they are about intoxicated drivers.
Ride-sharing companies might also explain the decrease in traffic accidents. Finding a ride for hire is more convenient than ever before. In addition, states are increasing penalties for drunk drivers. Drivers with high bodily alcohol content, considered the most dangerous among drunk drivers, are now dealt with harshly by the law. Even first-time offenders now face license suspension and intensive intervention programs.
Any of these factors may contribute to the decrease in overall traffic accidents in recent years. The various studies often don’t use the same variables and controls. Without accounting for all of the factors, it’s hard to reach a definitive conclusion as to whether recreational marijuana deserves the credit or blame for the current traffic accident rates throughout the United States.
Rights for Marijuana-Related Accident Victims
Even though experts and enthusiasts alike continue to study and debate the impact of legalized marijuana on traffic accidents, what hasn’t changed is the rights of victims who are injured in marijuana-related accidents. The standard for recovery for a car accident victim is negligence. Regardless of whether marijuana is legal for use, driving while under the influence of marijuana remains an example of negligence.
A driver who is the victim of a high driver may bring a claim to receive compensation. Their right to demand compensation does not depend on the legalities of recreational marijuana in the state. Even though the recreational use of marijuana may be legal in some states, driving while high is illegal in all states. Victims may pursue their claims with confidence, knowing that civil negligence laws remain on their side. If you’ve been hurt in an accident, you may deserve financial compensation. You must take action to bring your claim and receive payment.
Author bio: Jack Bernstein is a Miami, Florida car accident lawyer with over 36 years of experience helping victims get compensation for their injuries.